Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Search This Site

Teens and Cults

My daughter's circle of friends has a leader who is a self proclaimed anarchist, is very well read and loves being the center of attention. Since my daughter met him, she has lost all her humour and individuality - almost like she's been brainwashed into a cult of sorts. She hangs on this guy’s every word. Some of the other kid’s parents even think he's really cool, but all I see is that he turned my daughter against us.


Adolescents are especially vulnerable to cult leaders because adolescence is a life transition, a time of many changes when suddenly the old rules don't work. The Journey from childhood to adulthood can be a bumpy ride as teens learn to get along with their families while gaining independence from them. At the same time adolescents try to avoid being pushed around by friends, they must work hard to fit in with the crowd. The major physical changes adolescents face certainly don't make life any easier.

According to psychologists who study cults, we are most vulnerable to the cult leader's message when we:

• are uncertain about our own beliefs and values
• aren't quite sure about how we should act
• feel like we need to find some answers about life, and we need to find them fast
• find ourselves in vague or confusing situations
• have our confidence shaken up by a crisis

It is no wonder that cult leaders often focus their efforts on adolescents. Cult leaders know that the teen years are a time of seeking direction, and they are more than willing to point the way -- right into a damaging cult. Some leaders make a special effort of contact potential teenage members during times of stress, such as final exam week or graduation, when they will be more vulnerable.

Although an adolescent without a job may not be able to bring money into the cult, they do have talents and a great deal of energy. Since young people have an easy time building rapport and gaining the trust of other young people, adolescents make good leaders. Dangerous cults can also put them to work building the cult community or raising funds. Some damaging cults seek out young members because they hope these recruits will marry other cult members and will later give their kids to the cult.

Why would teens become involved with a cult? There are a number of reasons that some teens would find them appealing.

As teens transition from childhood into adulthood, they generally question many aspects of their lives. Sometimes, they wonder why they should listen to their parents and teachers. Why should they follow seemingly outdated and irrelevant rules and restrictions? After all, the world created by previous generations is far from ideal.

In addition all teens have aspects of their lives that are less than ideal. Perhaps their parents spend too much time at work and do not appear interested in their lives. Or, maybe, their parents want to be too intensely involved in their lives—trying to mico-manage small insignificant elements of daily living. That may become quite annoying. Possibly, the parents are not working and finances are very tight. Are there fights over money? Teens may find coping with these issues to be quite difficult.

Moreover, for many young people, the teen years are a time of intense uncertainly. While teens may criticize the world around them, they may be unclear where they belong and how they should prepare for the future. They appear to be quite certain what they don’t want, but they have difficulty defining what they would like. Often, new untried ideas are welcome.

Further, there are teens who have yet to connect with their peers. Somehow, they do not fit in with any of the groups at their school. They are not sufficiently athletic to be part of those groups; they are not smart enough to be accepted by the academic achievers; and they lack the social skills to be welcomed by the most social. Not surprisingly, these teens feel like outcasts—as if they don’t really belong. They are desperate to be part of something, and they lack the experience to comprehend what membership in a cult entails.

People of any age may experience personal crises. But teens tend to feel them more intensely. At the separation or divorce of parents, the break-up of an intense relationship, pressure over academic achievement and leaving for college may create internal turmoil. In fact, cult recruits are known to recruit on college campuses. Lonely students away from home for the first time may become involved with a cult without really realizing what is happening. That may be why people in their late teens and early 20s appear to be the most vulnerable.

Still, many teens from seemingly functional, financially secure families are drawn to cults. On occasion, there is no obvious reason for the attraction. Or maybe the families are not as solid and the relationships as nurturing as they may outwardly appear to be. There has also been a decline in the influence of families and religious institutions in today’s world.

There are several different types of cults. Probably the best-known ones are premised on some form of radical religion. The beliefs go far beyond any mainstream thoughts or theories. Political cults also receive a good deal of media attention. But there are also self-help or educational cults that use marginal techniques and economic cults that promise get-rich-quick schemes.

All cults use mind control techniques to attract prospective recruits and to keep their present recruits. There may be systematic brainwashing or programming. Cult recruits are often isolated from their family and friends. Very little contact is permitted. Past relationships may be criticized or demonized. Only relationships with current cult recruits are allowed. Books and newspapers may be carefully censored. Sleep deprivation combined with sensory overload are not uncommon, as are drugs and physical abuse. Cults usually require the handing over of any monetary assets or property. The leader will decide where cult recruits work. All earnings go directly to the cult.

When prospective cult recruits enter the cult, recruiters appear to be intensely interested in their needs, wants and feelings. Little personal space is allowed. Teens who previously believed that their parents and teachers didn’t care what they thought or said now think that someone is truly interested; another person is really listening. These techniques may be combined with long periods of meditating and/or chanting. No deviation from the routine is permitted; there is no questioning of the leader and his philosophy. Outsiders who find serious shortcomings with the cult’s beliefs are ridiculed.

In time, cult recruits develop a psychological dependence on the group leader, and it is the leader who directs all aspects of their lives. Cult recruits often lose their ability to make their own decision. As a result, the leaders retain an enormous amount of power over their followers, and they may use them for their own self-centered purposes such as making money or obtaining sex.

No matter how difficult a teen feels his or her life has become, avoid joining a cult. Sometimes a cult may masquerade as just another campus organization when, in fact, it is a cult. If one has any doubt, check with the college administration. Cults are psychologically and spiritually harmful and should be avoided. Historically, a number of cults have ended with mass suicides.

What are some of the ways to protect teens, their family recruits and friends against cults? Teens should learn more about them and how they recruit new recruits. Recruitment may be very subtle. In addition to schools, cult recruiters may be found in malls, stores, on the street, at work and over the Internet. They are everywhere.

If a teen has concerns about any group, then he or she should not ignore instinct. A teen could speak to a trusted adult, member of the clergy, teacher or school counselor if there are concerns.

"I want my son back..."

Hello Mark,

When everything I've tried failed, I started digging deeper into your program (about 85% complete but still reiterating). I found the section on ODD & CD, which I believe is present to some degree, especially the CD; probably mild to moderate substance abuse (weed, booze & grandmas prescriptions). I even heard he has been "dealing", but cannot find any proof, like a stash or cash, so I question (but do not reject the possibility of) him dealing. There are a lot of kids here on weekends, which seems normal.

He is popular at school, could do better and has issues with only one teacher that I know of. I met her, and well, I don't care for her either to be honest. We are always on alert, especially when anything is confiscated (old bottle of whiskey) from his room or the smell of smoke under a heavy blanket of cologne. He in no uncertain terms asked for the bottle(s) back. I looked him in the eye and said "And I want my son back". I was positive it would lead to another episode of a wall getting kicked clear through, so I called his cousin (who has semi-recovered from the same issues) and asked if he would come up for a surprise visit (distraction).

It didn't work out, my son took off ...probably suspecting I was behind it. He came home later and went to bed, no damage done. He will not speak to me, let alone listen to anything I have to say. Chores, ha. There's a better chance of Obama turning Republican and saying Bush was my mentor.

I also suspect (but have no proof) that the neighbor (who is about 38 years old) is somehow involved with more than a friendly ear. There is good reason to believe there's "something up", but I don't want to go there or insinuate anything without reasonable/absolute proof. I wouldn't want someone doing that to me. I need an approach.

Hanging in there…


Prepare for your son to be angry if he suspects you have searched his room. As paranoia is a common side effect of many drugs popular among teens, your son may already be worrying that you are spying on him or will find out about his problem. It's likely that he may notice that someone has entered his room and moved his belongings, so be ready to deal with a possible confrontation about the search.

Wait until you know that he will be out of the house for an extended period of time. The best time to do so is probably when he will be at school, though if your son happens to skip school, a behavior that tends to accompany drug abuse, be aware of the possibility that he may unsuspectingly come home expecting you to be at work. If possible, wait to perform the search until you are certain he will be away from his room several uninterrupted hours, such as a work shift or a weekend vacation.

Think about hiding places built into the structure of your house. Your son is likely to be familiar with any special spots in his room where there are special compartments or openings, such as crawl spaces, attic doors, loose flooring or drop ceiling panels. These are places in your son's room where drugs or drug paraphernalia might be hidden because he may think no one else in the household knows about them.

Check everywhere in the room where drugs could be hidden, such as under the bed or mattress, behind bookcases and inside desk drawers. Look inside the battery compartments of any electronics in your son's room, such as the TV, remote controls and portable CD players. Also check any pieces of furniture with hollow areas that could provide a hiding place for small stashes of drugs.

Wait to confront your son about your suspicions if you do not find any evidence. Though it may be necessary to bring up the issue regardless of whether or not you find drugs in your son's room, breaking his trust can also be dangerous and can cause him to isolate himself even further from you. Discussing potential drug abuse is a topic that must be handled very delicately.

Next… the “conversation”:

The major reason you have to have a conversation with your youngster about drugs and alcohol is because your kids need to be educated by you. They need to hear from their moms and dads that teen drug and alcohol use is not condoned in your family. They need to learn from their moms and dads about the consequences of drug and alcohol use. Most importantly, they need to be held accountable for their actions with drugs and alcohol use.

What happens if you suspect that your teen is already using alcohol and drugs? What do you say to them? The conversation is the same: moms and dads need to tell their kids that drug and alcohol use by teens is not allowed in your family.

The issue won't go away until you do something. You will get to the point where you can't deny that the problem exists. You'll have a continuous nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. You will simply have to acknowledge that your youngster has a problem — your youngster is using drugs and that won't get any better until you take action on your youngster's behalf. It is OK to ask for help. In fact, getting help may make it easier for you to have the conversation.

Sometimes the beginning of a conversation is harder than the middle — that dreaded conversation with your spouse or partner during which you acknowledge that you know your youngster has a problem with drugs or alcohol. That is a pretty profound conversation and is often laden with sadness, anger and regret. Denial plays a big part in that first conversation, as does finger-pointing. Neither reaction is helpful. The most important thing you can do is move on and figure out what you both can do to help your youngster.

This is a time for you and your spouse or partner to establish rules and consequences for your youngster if he or she uses drugs or alcohol. The rules should be simple: no drug or alcohol use by teens will be allowed in your family. The consequences should be straightforward and meaningful to the teen. Don’t go to extremes in setting consequences — choose those that you are able to carry out.

Practice the conversation with each other ahead of time. You may have to have a couple of “practice runs.” These conversations are not easy but they are worthwhile. Talking it over with your spouse/partner beforehand will help you keep a level head and speak to the issue.

Tell yourself that you won’t “lose it” with your youngster. Anger and hostility won’t get you anywhere in this conversation. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, you are the parent and you are in charge. Be kind, simple, and direct in your statements to your youngster. Above all, remember to tell your youngster that you love him or her! The conversation will not be perfect — no conversation ever is. Know that you are doing the right thing for your youngster. That’s what matters most!

Here are some suggested things to keep in mind when you talk to your youngster:
  • It makes you FEEL worried and concerned about them when they do drugs.
  • KNOW that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking to your kid about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.
  • Tell your son that you LOVE him, and you are worried that he might be using drugs or alcohol.
  • You are there to LISTEN to them.
  • You KNOW that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences.
  • You tell him what you WILL do to help them.
  • You WANT them to be a part of the solution.

Teens and Grief

I'm not sure who's more out of control, my 14 yo daughter or me. She does schoolwork, but not to her G-d given ability, picks fights when anything is asked of her, and while she has begun with a new therapist, she is defiant and angry beyond words.

She's lost her uncle, father and both paternal grandparents in the last 3 years: she says she doesn't sleep and she wants a psychiatrist and pill to make things better. I know that she is hurting, but the lashing out has me at my wit's end.

She is only civil to me if she wants something, and "doesn't care" about anything or anyone - or so she says.

She's lost her computer privileges for backtalk. She's lost her guitar because she is up all hours of the night keeping me awake and not getting sleep. As a solo parent, I have reached the end of my rope.



Each year thousands of teens experience the death of someone they love. When a parent, sibling, friend or relative dies, adolescents feel the overwhelming loss of someone who helped shape their fragile self-identities. And these feelings about the death become a part of their lives forever.

Caring grown-ups can help adolescents during this time. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.

Many Adolescents Are Told To “Be Strong”. Sad to say, many grown-ups who lack understanding of their experience discourage adolescents from sharing their grief. Bereaved adolescents give out all kinds of signs that they are struggling with complex feelings, yet are often pressured to act as they are doing better than they really are. When a parent dies, many adolescents are told to “be strong” and “carry on” for the surviving parent. They may not know if they will survive themselves let alone be able to support someone else. Obviously, these kinds of conflicts hinder the “work of mourning”.

Relationship Conflicts May Exist. As adolescents strive for their independence, relationship conflicts with family members often occur. A normal, though trying way in which adolescents separate from their moms and dads is by going through a period of devaluation. If a parent dies while the adolescent is emotionally and physically pushing the parent away, there is often a sense of guilt and “unfinished business”. While the need to create distance is normal we can easily see how this complicates the experience of mourning.

Support May Be Lacking. Many people assume that adolescents have supportive friends and family who will be continually available to them. In reality, this may not be true at all. The lack of available support often relates to the social expectations placed on the teen. They are usually expected to be “grown up” and support other members of the family, particularly a surviving parent and/or younger brothers and sisters. Many adolescents have been told, “now, you will have to take care of your family.” When an adolescent feels a responsibility to “care for the family”, he or she does not have the opportunity—or the permission to mourn. Sometimes we assume that teenagers will find comfort from their peers. But when it comes to death, this may not be true. It seems that unless friends have experienced grief themselves, they project their own feelings of helplessness by ignoring the subject of loss entirely.

Teen Years Can Be Naturally Difficult. Adolescents are no longer children, yet neither are they grown-ups. With the exception of infancy, no developmental period is so filled with change as adolescence. Leaving the security of childhood, the adolescent begins the process of separation from moms and dads. The death of a parent or sibling, then, can be a particularly devastating experience during this already difficult period. At the same time the bereaved teen is confronted by the death of someone loved, he or she also faces psychological, physiological and academic pressures. While adolescents may begin to look like “men” or “women”, they will still need consistent and compassionate support as they do the work of mourning, because physical development does not always equal emotional maturity.

Adolescents May Experience Sudden Deaths. The grief that adolescents experience often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A parent may die of a sudden heart attack, a brother or sister may be killed in an auto accident, or a friend may commit suicide. The very nature of these deaths often results in a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality.

As we have discussed, there are many reasons why healthy grieving can be especially difficult for teenagers. Some grieving adolescents may even behave in ways that seem inappropriate or frightening. Be on the watch for:
  • academic failure or indifference to school-related activities
  • denying pain while at the same time acting overly strong or mature
  • deterioration of relationships with family and friends
  • risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and sexual experimentation
  • symptoms of chronic depression, sleeping difficulties, restlessness and low self esteem

To help an adolescent who is having a particularly hard time with his or her loss, explore the full spectrum of helping services in your community. School counselors, church groups and private therapists are appropriates resources for some young people, while others may just need a little more time and attention from caring adults like you. The important thing is that you help the grieving teen find safe and nurturing emotional outlets at this difficult time.

How grown-ups respond when someone loved dies has a major effect on the way adolescents react to the death. Sometimes adults don’t want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so, young people will be spared some of the pain and sadness. However, the reality is very simple: adolescents grieve anyway.

Adolescents often need caring grown-ups to confirm that it’s all right to be sad and to feel a multitude of emotions when someone they love dies. They also usually need help understanding that the hurt they feel now won’t last forever. When ignored, adolescents may suffer more from feeling isolated than from the actual death itself. Worse yet, they feel all alone in their grief.

Peer support groups are one of the best ways to help bereaved adolescents heal. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. In this setting most will be willing to acknowledge that death has resulted in their life being forever changed. You may be able to help adolescents find such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience for an adolescent. As a result of this death, the teen’s life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.

Grief is complex. It will vary from teen to teen. Caring grown-ups need to communicate to children that this feeling is not one to be ashamed of or hide. Instead, grief is a natural expression of love for the person who died.

For caring grown-ups, the challenge is clear: teenagers do not choose between grieving and not grieving; adults, on the other hand, do have a choice—to help or not to help adolescents cope with grief.

With love and understanding, grown-ups can support adolescents through this vulnerable time and help make the experience a valuable part of an adolescent’s personal growth and development.
JOIN Online Parent Support

Son Is Verbally Abusive


Thanks for your prompt response, the most pressing for now is for him not to be very loud and verbally abusive at home (FYI-My son is 6 ft tall and I'm 5"3. and it is very intimidating at times). Also, I want him to be self-reliant. I totally get your topic on that. We've very sensible about that until 2 yrs ago that I was a bit indulgent with them. I guess I was over compensating for the loss of their father and I put that to an end and explained to them our priorities.

My question Mark with your experience, do I have a chance to turn him around? Every counselor that I consulted, their advise is for him to go to counseling, w/o telling me how to effectively convince him how can I persuade him without being controlling and he thinks kids who go to counseling have head problem. I just want him to be responsible and accountable for his actions.




Aggression or violence towards moms and dads (or other family members) by their kids or adolescents is more common than most people believe and it is something that is usually not talked about. It can involve abusive language, frightening, threatening or physically hurting a parent (pushing, shoving, kicking, throwing things), hurting pets, damaging furniture and property, or threatening with knives or weapons. Whether it is a one-off incident or ongoing, it must be dealt with.

Kids may be aggressive towards moms and dads for a number of reasons. None of the following reasons excuse violent or aggressive behavior, but they may help moms and dads understand why some kids, especially adolescents do it:
  • Drugs or alcohol, the loss of a job or a broken relationship can all be triggers that lead to violence.
  • They do not know of any other way to solve problems or get what they want (lashing out at someone or something is all they know).
  • They have grown up in a household where they have seen adults (sometimes moms and dads or partners) being angry, and using violence towards them or others (this behavior is seen as normal in their eyes).
  • They have not learned how to control or manage their feelings, especially angry ones and so just act out without using any self discipline.
  • They have not learned to value or respect other people or their property.
  • They may be going through a really difficult time and cannot cope with the stresses in their own lives.
  • They may have a disability and have not been able to learn other ways of behaving.
  • They may have an acute mental illness and be very frightened.
  • They may have used drugs that can trigger an acute psychosis and violent behavior.
  • They see the parent as weak and powerless (it is often the mother), or they think that this is how women can be treated.

Most moms and dads whose kids attack them in this way can feel very scared, very powerless, lonely, sometimes embarrassed, ashamed and guilty. They feel they have lost control in the home.

• Although taking a tough stand can be difficult it is very important to do. When a teenager is violent toward a parent, no matter how much she might excuse her behavior ("it was really mum's fault, she pushed me to it") she can never feel all right about it. If she is never made to stop, she will probably repeat the same pattern in other relationships or in the work place. It will continue to cause problems in her life and can even lead to problems with the law unless she is stopped and can learn other ways to deal with her anger.

• Be prepared to make some tough decisions, even though your confidence feels shattered.

• Decide on your 'bottom line'. You need to be very clear and carry out what you have said will happen when he has overstepped this line. This may mean your teenager leaves your home either by agreement or by using the police and/or a restraining order. You may find this very hard to do. Get support from someone who understands.

• If the behavior is out of character for your teenager and has started only recently, think about what else may have happened or changed lately. For example, has anyone new had contact with your family recently or have there been changes in the family or with his friends? Has anything happened in these relationships? Is your teenager depressed? See the topic 'Teenage depression'. Has your teenager been taking drugs?

• If your other kids are being harmed in any way by your teenager, you must do something to protect them.

• Look at the situation from your teenager's point of view, no matter how unreasonable it seems. Think about how your behavior (from his point of view) might be contributing to the situation (even if you don't think it could be).

• Notice what your teenager does well and talk to him about it. Adolescents especially do not need reminders of their failures.

• Remember that whatever has happened in your relationship with your teenager, there is no excuse for violence.

• Spend some time supporting what he likes doing if he will let you, eg watching him play sport or listening to his music.

• Taking a tough stand helps to force your youngster to face his violence - he then has the chance to learn other ways of dealing with anger.

• Think about what happens as a fight brews. What are the warning signs? When these signs are present, make sure you separate from each other (you may have to leave the house). If so, take your younger kids with you so they don't become the victims of violence. Talk about concerns only when you are both calm.

• Think about your favorite image of your teenager. Do you still think of her as she was when she was little? You may need to come to grips with the fact that she is no longer a youngster.

• Think what the fights are most often about. Work out what things you are not prepared to move your position on, what ones you are prepared to give way on and what you can leave for your teenager to sort out.

• You need to take some control in your home. You may not be able to change or stop your teenager's behavior, but you can take a stand for what you are prepared to put up with in your home. This is important especially if there are younger kids who may feel frightened and need your help to feel safe.

Violence towards moms and dads or other family members is unacceptable and is recognized by the police as a crime. It is very difficult to make the decision to call the police and possibly have your youngster charged, but you need to keep yourself and others safe.
  • You are likely to feel guilt, anger, sadness and fear.
  • You may feel that you are betraying your youngster and that this will put his or her future at risk.

Calling the police can help to calm the situation, support you to regain control and begin to rebuild a respectful relationship with your youngster.

What will happen? The police can help to calm an explosive situation or protect other family members. They will give advice and ask what action you want taken, if any.

What action can they take? If you would like the police to take further action the young person will be taken for a formal interview at the nearest police station. The police can the deal with the young person by:

• Arranging a family conference
• Issuing a formal caution
• Issuing an informal caution
• Proceeding through the Youth Court

If the offense is serious the young person can be arrested and taken into custody.

• Kids under 10 years cannot be charged, but police can still be called for assistance and advice.

• If the young person is between 10 and 18 years old, cases are handled within the Juvenile Justice system. The court will decide upon appropriate action if it determined that a crime has occurred. However this information will not be released when a criminal history is requested (eg by an employer).

• If you do not want to take action, police keep the matter on file and it can be followed up at a later time.

• Young people over 18 are considered adults and would be dealt with through the Magistrates Court. If convicted this would be recorded as part of a criminal history and will be released if a criminal history is requested. (An employer can only get a criminal history record if the person agrees to this, but not agreeing may affect employment opportunities).

Regardless of the future impact on your youngster it is important to take action to ensure the safety of yourself and other family members - you all have the right to feel safe.

  • Call the police is you or others in your family are at risk.
  • Deal with this problem... it won't go away.
  • Decide on your bottom line, make it known in advance, mean it and carry it out.
  • Find out what works for other people.
  • Look after your self esteem... you may feel you have lost it altogether or it needs repairing.
  • Speak to someone who understands this sort of behavior and who can support you.
  • Take some control.... for the sake of yourself, your teenager and your other kids.
  • You can love your youngster but you do not have to put up with all his behavior.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

18-year-old daughter is threatening to move out...


My 18 year old daughter is dating a 21 year old guy with no job, not in school. He has been on his own since 16 …mom was a drug abuser. My daughter has graduated from high school and is now attending community college and living at home. She says she can't live by our rules anymore. She has already spent 2 nights in the past month with him at a friend's house (he is sleeping on the couch because he has no place of his own.) She keeps saying she wants to be on her own and is threatening to move.

WE have told her that if she moves out she can't take her car. She also will be on her own financially. She says if we take her car, then we are jeopardizing her future b/c she will have no way to get to class! We told her no, she is jeopardizing her future. She suffers from depression, ADD, asthma, irritable bowel. She is on many meds. I can't imagine what would happen if she was on her own. How would she afford her meds? Illegal activity would be a big possibility. I don't want to drive her to this. We have taken her to therapists and then she refuses to go after a few sessions. I feel like I am at my wit's end with nowhere to turn.


Let her go and learn some valuable life lessons!

Your daughter declares she is going to move out and be on her own. She does not need curfews or your advice. So, what do you do since talking endlessly and arguing has not been productive? You say, "O.K.", and leave her standing mouth agape and in shock. However, you did not arrive at this decision lightly. You and your spouse have discussed this thoroughly and you have agreed on a plan.

Once the initial shock has sunk in, and before the child begins her celebration of freedom, you sit down and lay out the terms of this agreement. This is not a total free-for-all (contrary to her belief). In reality, you are still in charge and she needs to understand that her desire for freedom comes with responsibility. This is the time to draft a behavior contract, which stipulates what you will - and will not - do as the parent, what she is - and is not - allowed to do as the adult-child, and what the consequences are in those cases she violates any terms of the contract.

JOIN Online Parent Support

Son Won't Come Home On Weekends

Dear Mark,

Can you please help me manage this situation? My son is 15 and will not come home at the weekends. I said to him that the rule is to be home at weekends by 11.30 and he is not to stay out, unless I am happy who he is staying with and have spoken to the parents. The consequence of this is no pocket money at all. It doesn’t seem to matter to him… he is probably stealing money or stuff anyway. He is using hash and has got very abusive in the home. Now I get a text from him saying he is staying in a friend’s house that I don’t know and will not give me the number. He will not come back now until Sunday. I don’t know what else to do. The money doesn’t seem to matter.

He is in trouble with the police, has changed his friends to hash friends, is aggressive and has thrashed the house. My mother is sick down the country and will not come down with me to visit her which means I can’t leave the city to visit.

Any suggestions would be welcome.



“Situational Runaways” are the largest group of runaways, comprised of young people who leave home for a day or two after a disagreement with parents – or for the weekend. Although they may be seen in runaway shelters or spend a brief time on the street, they usually return home within a few days. A small percentage may repeat this behavior and remain away for longer periods. If so, they become a part of the chronic runaway group. The suburban kid who runs to a friend's house the first time may turn into a chronic runaway who eventually finds his way to the heart of the nearby city, where other rootless kids hang out.

As much as you would like to build a wall around them, it is their choice whether or not to walk out the door. The phrase I use, "There are no bars on these windows, and the doors only lock people out." This is harsh, and I know it, but it also very much the truth. As a parent I can be a safety net, a tool box, and an emotional punching bag, but I refuse to be a chain.

Unfortunately we can’t completely prevent teens from running away, but here are a few suggestions that may help:

• Call the police. You don't have to wait 24 hours to report a missing minor. Be aware that because this is considered a common domestic issue, finding runaways is not always a priority for the police department unless your child is under 13 or there is reason to believe that he or she is in immediate danger. You'll need to do most of the footwork yourself. However, the police will keep watch and return your child to you if he or she is found. It's also important to file a report in case you are unable to find your child or a situation arises where help is needed.

• Call your child's friends. Your teen may still be in contact with them. It's especially important to remain calm when you speak to them. Otherwise, they may not be willing to help. Speak to the parents, as well. They may be able to give you other phone numbers to call. Ask them to contact you if they hear anything.

• Don’t scream and yell, or threaten your teen, this will only make them want to leave more.

• Go through your child's bedroom. Look through notebooks and drawers. Your child may have left a note behind. There may also be addresses and phone numbers. Visit the addresses and call the phone numbers if you haven't already.

• Remain calm. This is probably the most difficult thing to do when your teen runs away, but it's important. Keeping your emotions in check will make it easier to stay efficient and organized. You'll also need help from other people and they'll be more willing and open if you remain calm.

• Try not to interrupt your teenager when they do come to you to talk, sometimes it helps the most to just listen. If you don’t agree with your child at least listen to their side, then calmly give your side, if things start to get out of control, take a break.

• Try showing your teen respect and keep communication open, listening to what they have to say.

If you really want to put a lid on this situation, click on the link below!

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

The Trials of Being a Stepmother

There's no doubt that being a stepmother is one of the most difficult roles any adult will ever assume. So much pain can be avoided if you can agree on some very basic definitions of that role, and be alert to sensitivities with it.

To handle this situation with the utmost efficiency, both the biological parent and the stepmother should begin with an open and candid discussion about the fears and expectations regarding the relationship with the kids. Each should know what the other expects concerning the stepmother's involvement in guiding, supervising and disciplining the kids. Once you understand what each other's expectations are, you have a place to start shaping what the stepmother role will be. I always think it's important to first identify what you can agree on and thereby narrow your differences. How you ultimately define the stepmother role will, of course, be up to you. The following are my recommendations based on what I've seen work, what I've seen fail and how I think it's best to set up and define the stepmother role:

1. If you as a biological parent are having frustrations with the stepparent and what they're doing in relation to your kids, I encourage you at a very early point to stop complaining and start specifically asking for what you want and need. If, for example, you feel they're spending more time playing games with their kids, ask them specifically, for example, to play three board games per week with your youngster. Specifically ask for what you specifically want.

2. If you're the stepmother in a truly blended family, where both you and your spouse have kids being merged into a "yours, mine and ours" scenario, you must take great care not to be perceived as playing favorites through a double standard in which your kids enjoy a better standard of treatment than your step children. The truth is, however unpopular or politically incorrect it may be to say, you'll very likely have decidedly stronger positive emotional feelings for your biological kids than for your step children, at least in the beginning. You'll need to cloak this difference in emotional intensity. As time goes on and you share life experiences with your step children, there will be a leveling of emotions toward all of the kids. In the meantime, you should be hypersensitive to the need to deal with each in a like fashion. It can be very helpful in the early stages to actually quantify and balance the time, activities and money spent on biological and non-biological kids.

3. In relating to all the kids, the stepparent should seek to define her relationship as that of an ally and supporter. Whether the stepparent is the same or opposite-sexed parent, their presence can play an important balancing role in terms of modeling and information-giving about life from the male or female point of view. The role of ally and supporter is in no way to be construed as an attempt to replace the biological parent.

4. It's important that the stepmother not have unrealistic expectations about their level of closeness or intimacy with the step children. Relationships are built, and it takes time and shared experiences to create a meaningful one. The stepmother should also be aware that the youngster may be experiencing a fair amount of emotional confusion — and may in fact feel guilty that they're betraying their biological mother by having a close and caring relationship with their stepmother. Great care and patience should be taken to allow the youngster an opportunity to work through those feelings.

5. It's my strong belief that unless you as the stepmother are added to the family when the kids are very young, it will most likely be very difficult for you to discipline your spouse's kids. Every situation is different, but in most situations, disciplining your non-biological kids is fraught with danger, since it's likely to create resentment on the part of your spouse. Again, this isn't always the case, and if that's not the circumstance in your family, that's great, because it can give the biological parent an additional resource for handling discipline issues. While I don't believe it's very likely a workable situation for a stepmother to be a direct disciplinarian, it's extremely important that the stepmother be an active supporter of the biological parent's disciplinary efforts. Both biological parents and stepparents should discuss the rules of the house and negotiate an agreement for what standards the kids will be held to. This element of family life should be subject to the same negotiation and joint ownership as any other family situation.

6. The stepmother should actively support the youngster's relationship with the biological mother no longer in the home. If you are in the role of stepmother, you should make it a priority to nurture a relationship between you and the biological mother and to find every possible way you can to support a relationship between her and her kids. By taking the high road of facilitation, you'll find it easier to overcome feelings of resentment both on the part of the biological mother and the kids she no longer has daily access to. This may require some real internal commitment on your part, because supporting your step children's relationship with their biological but absent parent may seem tantamount to also supporting that parent's relationship with your spouse. Don't let jealousy or envy of the bond they share with their kids or the working relationship and history with your current mate because you to be less than supportive of that relationship.

7. The stepmother, although not actively initiating direct discipline, should certainly work to maintain the normal boundaries that exist between an adult and a youngster. Although it may be the biological parent who delivers an initial consequence for misbehavior, it's important that the stepmother be active in support of that decision, and care should be taken that proper respect and acknowledgment of the stepmother be given. In other words, a stepfather is not simply one's mother's husband. He is in fact an adult and an authority figure in the home.

In summary, let me say it's true that it's difficult to see things through someone else's eyes if you haven't walked in their shoes. Whether you're the stepparent or it's your spouse who's in that role, talk frequently about how it's going and what the experience is from the other's point of view. If both of you have good intentions and a loving heart, this can be worked out. The key is to remember that the kids are passengers on this train. They didn't get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation.

Brother Bullies Younger Sibs

Dear Mark,

We have greatly benefited from your online parenting book and we have watched you on YouTube. Our son aged 10 [will be 11 in May] has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. We have 4 other children, and we try to run a loving but disciplined home. Though my son is not out of control, he is very aggressive and rude from the off, without any provocation. We feel very undermined because of his behaviour, especially in front of the other children. I feel very sad and depressed when he behaves like this, which is most of the time. He bullies his younger siblings, and causes a great deal of tension and unhappiness at home. The autism is the reason for his lack of social skills but why is he so angry, unhelpful and unpleasant in an environment that is mild mannered? Is it because he is a bad tempered person who happens to have autism and ADHD?

Please forgive me if I am missing the obvious. Thank you very much for your time and patience.
Looking forward to hearing from you.



Approach the bullying situation in three distinct ways:

1. Ask yourself if you think that the mocking and harassing by the older brother to the younger sibling is only a superficial encounter between siblings or if there's a deep-seeded resentment involved. The older brother may be displacing anger that he feels in another area of his life and taking it out on the closest possible victim, his sibling. You don't want the younger sibling to see himself as a victim. If the interactions stem from unresolved familial issues, one or both of the children may need therapy.

2. Notice when they get along. What are they doing? Playing video games, riding bicycles, listening to music? Whatever it happens to be, see what you can do to create more opportunities for them to engage in these activities together. When they're engaging in an activity together, they are building their relationship.

3. Stop the older brother from mocking and harassing his younger sibling. When he starts in, assume control of the situation, step between the children and stop it immediately. Say something like, "Mocking and harassing your brother is not OK. I will not allow one kid I love to harm — even with words — another kid I love." Use powerful — but not threatening — body language and tone of voice. These interactions between the siblings are likely a negative habit embedded in their relationship. By stopping these interactions quickly, the kids will need to find another way — hopefully a positive one — of interacting.

4. When they do get along with one another, be sure to catch them in the act of "being good" and extend a dose of acknowledgment and praise: "I see you guys are getting along - that's you being respectful - good work."

Most bullying situations start in the home, sometimes delivered from parent to kid and other times between siblings. The children need to learn better ways to interact because neither will succeed well in relationships if they generalize the bullying or the victim roles to other situations.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

JOIN Online Parent Support

When Kids Won't Go To School

"How do I get my 10-year-old daughter to school? She seems to have stomach aches or headaches constantly, and misses several days of school each week. When we tell her she must go – she screams and cries and seems to be genuinely afraid of going to school. What can we do?"


You need to be firm with her. Don't count on the problem going away if you ignore it. She could end up not ever going back. However, don't be angry with her as her anxiety and distress are real.

You need to find out what is troubling her. It could be school phobia ( a fear of school), separation anxiety (fear of leaving you or the home) or agoraphobia (fear of crowds and public places). These are all very real disorders.

If someone is bullying, teasing, embarrassing, or abusing her, then it could be the first diagnosis. Talk to her teachers to find out what they know and to inform them of your experiences with your daughter.

Take her to the doctor for a complete physical examination. Tell the doctor the whole story and ask him to rule out any serious illnesses.

If he rules out an illness, then believe what he says. Don't have a lot of expensive tests. Assume that your youngster is physically well and needs to go to school. Keep assuring her firmly and confidently that she'll be fine (and so will you) once she arrives. If she still claims of physical ailments, you have two options;

First, get her to school unless you determine that she truly is sick. In that case she would be running a fever, or have nausea and/ or diarrhea, etc. If she just tells you she doesn't feel well, that isn't enough to let her stay home. Adults often go to work with uncomfortable symptoms.

The second option is to believe her. Since she says she is too unwell to go to school, then clearly she is too unwell to be up and about the house. If she is sick then she is sick, and so she goes to bed: lights off, curtains closed, no TV, no special snacks. Ignore her and go about your normal daily routine. Make sure that the option of staying home is boring. If she is not sleeping then, ideally she should be doing some school work. Certainly there should be no friends or visitors to entertain her.

You can also establish some rewards for going to school.

Be firm and remain calm. Let her know that you expect her to go to school, but don't argue with her if she resists. The goal is for her to want to go back to school. Once she goes and finds out that she's fine, her previous symptoms should disappear.

Kids with school refusal are scared to go to school. They may be so scared that they won't leave the house. School refusal is most common in 5- and 6-year-olds and in 10- and 11-year-olds, but it can start at any age.

The problem might start after a youngster has been home for awhile, such as after a holiday, summer vacation, or brief illness. It also might happen after a stressful event, such as moving to a new house or the death of a pet or relative.

Kids who won't go to school often say they feel sick. They might wake up and say they have a headache, stomachache, or sore throat. If they stay home from school, the “illness” might go away, but it comes back the next morning before school. Some kids may have crying spells or temper tantrums.

Kids with school refusal may worry about the safety of their moms and dads or themselves. They may not want to be in a room by themselves, and they may be scared of the dark. They also may have trouble falling asleep by themselves and might have nightmares.

Kids who are truant (or “playing hooky”) are not scared to go to school the way kids with school refusal are. The table below compares some of the characteristics of school refusal and truancy.

School refusal:
  • The youngster usually wants to stay home because he or she feels safe there.
  • The youngster might pretend to be sick or say he or she doesn't want to go to school.
  • The youngster is unreasonably scared of going to school.

  • The youngster chooses not to go to school.
  • The youngster may have antisocial behaviors such as delinquency, lying, and stealing.
  • The youngster skips school and doesn't tell his or her parent.

Take your youngster to the doctor. Anxiety or a physical illness might be causing the problem. You also should talk to your youngster's teacher or school counselor. Your youngster's doctor will be able to rule out any illness that may be causing the problem.

Unreasonable fears about leaving home can be treated. Moms and dads must keep trying to get their youngster to go back to school. Your youngster's doctor may want your youngster to talk to a psychologist, social worker, or youngster psychiatrist. The doctor also might prescribe medicine to help with your youngster's anxiety.

The longer your youngster stays out of school, the harder it will be to return. The goal of treatment is to help your youngster learn ways to reduce anxiety and return to school.

Kids who do not go to school for long periods may develop serious learning setbacks or social problems. Kids who do not get professional help might have emotional problems such as anxiety when they get older. Early treatment of this problem is important for your youngster's well-being.

JOIN Online Parent Support


Join Our Facebook Support Group

Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Online Parenting Coach - Syndicated Content